Rachmaninoff: Vespers

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninoff
WORKS: Vespers
PERFORMER: National Academic Choir of Ukraine/Yevhen Savchuk
Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, composed in 1915, reveal a side of the composer that still comes as something of a shock to many. This is music worlds removed from the full-blown, dynamic Romanticism of the symphonies and piano concertos. Rather, it speaks poignantly of the composer’s allegiance to his roots, of his innate, non-specific spirituality. His own attitude towards the church was equivocal, yet, just as is the case with Vaughan Williams’s sacred music, no hypocrisy lies behind the creation of this piece. Religious music is as much a defining constituent of a particular culture as folk music, often forms just as significant a part of a community’s collective conscience. This new recording by the National Academic Choir of Ukraine conveys an admirable sense of the music’s reflective spiritual intensity, with well-disciplined, atmospheric, purposeful and strong singing, though I wonder if the numbers involved are perhaps a few too many. The choir’s name implies, however, that its members are students. If that is the case, they produce a commendably resonant and mature sound, the basses effortlessly reaching those subterranean regions which present such a hazard to choirs from outside the Orthodox tradition. But there is a lot of competition around, and my benchmark recording, the polished, astonishingly assured reading given by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, under Stephen Cleobury (yes, I know that boys’ voices are strictly inauthentic, but the cool clarity that arises from their use serves the music particularly well to my mind) remains unchallenged by the new arrival. Stephen Pettitt